It’s been more than 40 days since the end of the Celtics season, and Doc Rivers still hasn’t confirmed whether he’ll return next year. Along the way, he’s had plenty of chances to do so, but has passed at every turn. Meanwhile, we’ve heard numerous shouts from Stephen A. Smith about how Rivers still might walk away. We’ve read a report from A. Sherrod Blakely that Doc is growing wary about a potential rebuild. And then today comes word from ESPN’s Chris Broussard that Rivers believes “it might be time for a change.
But the truth is, whether or not Broussard’s report is accurate, things already have changed. And at this point, you have to wonder if it might be in everyone’s best interest for Doc to walk away and the Celtics to move on without him.
First of all, we know that there’s at least some indecision on Doc’s part — if not, he’d just confirm he's coming back, regardless of Pierce and KG’s status — and that alone should be a red flag for the Celtics. In rebuilding this team, or any team, there are few things more important than a stable coach. Rebuilding isn’t just about finding players, it’s about finding players that fit and will collectively buy into a system. The coach sets the foundation for that system.
So when a coach leaves, everything changes. That’s one of the biggest reasons that the Celtics locked up Rivers for five-years/$35 million to begin with. They knew this franchise was about to embark on some potentially uneasy air space, and that having that foundation in tact would make it that much easier; it would leave one less question mark, one fewer thing to worry about. But as of now, that’s something that the Celtics clearly do have to worry about. Even if Doc comes back this year, who’s to say that he won’t be even more conflicted next summer, or the summer after that? With everything that’s on Danny Ainge’s plate, it doesn’t help for him to spend every May/June wondering if his coach will be back for another year.
Then there’s this: What’s Doc greatest strength as a coach? Well, he has a few, but in signing him to that five-year extension, the Celtics were counting on was his ability to recruit. In fact, some considered Rivers to be Boston’s biggest free-agent draw. But what free agent is going to come to Boston now, knowing that from year to year there will be no guarantee as to whether the coach he came to play for will even be here
At the time of his extension, Rivers was understandably uneasy about a potential rebuild, but was ready to weather any storm.
“Well, I don’t think anyone’s looking forward to that,” he told WEEI shortly after signing, “but I’m willing to do that. I had a group that has been very loyal to me. I think it would have been very easy for me to just run and go somewhere else and chase something else. It would have been easier to do it [that] way; I just don’t think it’s the right thing to do. Coaches talk about loyalty and team all the time. I just thought it was time to show it. And that’s what I did.”
But today, you have to wonder how much that loyalty is worth. To Doc and the Celtics. I mean, clearly the loyalty is still there. Reading some of these reports, it seems like loyalty might be the only reason that Doc is so conflicted. But let’s be honest, if loyalty is the only thing keeping you in a job like this, it’s a recipe for disaster. It’s a recipe for resentment. You don’t want a coach to stick it out because he thinks it’s the right thing to do and doesn’t want to go back on his word. With everything that’s facing the Celtics right now, you don’t want a coach who’s wary about a rebuild and/or uneasy about the future. You want a coach who’s excited about the future. Who’s inspired by the future. Who wants to wake up every morning and kick the future’s ass. And it doesn’t sounds like Doc is that guy right now. You understand why he’s not. After all, he’s been through this before. He’s older now. This is his life, and no one can tell him how to live it.
And if he decides to leave, it would obviously be an enormous hit and shock to the future of this franchise. It will mean that Kevin Garnett is done. It will almost certainly mean that Paul Pierce is done. And who knows what else.
But given the way this story is trending, you get the sense that it’s not a matter of if, but eventually when Doc walks away. If he’s wavering like this now, it’s really hard to imagine that he’ll see the end of this contract. And if that’s the case, and the goal is to rebuild a contender in Boston as quickly as possible, when does it make the most sense to start laying that new foundation? Next year? Two years from now? Or today, when there just happens to be more available and established coaches on the market than anytime in recent NBA history.
You’d think the latter, but it’s obviously not that easy. Nothing about this is. And with every day that passes without an answer from Doc, it will only get worse.